The Penal Code provides that offences are divided into criminal offences and misdemeanours. Whereas a criminal offence violates the victim’s legal rights, a misdemeanour is an administrative offence. Only a court has the right to hear a criminal offence, but both the bodies conducting extrajudicial proceedings (e.g., the police, the Tax and Customs Board, the Environmental Inspectorate, county and city governments, etc.) and a court have the right to hear misdemeanours. It is also possible to appeal the action of a body conducting extrajudicial proceedings in a court, and at the same time, a challenge against an action of a body conducting extrajudicial proceedings can be submitted to the head of the relevant institution.
Typical misdemeanours include various offences (e.g., road traffic offences, causing a fire hazard in nature, a breach of public order), the offences in the field of taxation and customs (e.g. hiding a tax liability, paying unreported wages, exporting/selling cigarettes illegally), offences in the field of environment (e.g. dumping waste illegally, environmental pollution, etc.).
A misdemeanour is punishable by a fine, a detention, or disqualification. Both bodies conducting extrajudicial proceedings (the police) and courts have the right to impose a fine. The amount of a fine is between 3 to 300 fine units (one fine unit is 4 euros); thus, fines can range from 12 to 1,200 euros. Legal entities may be imposed fines ranging from 32 to 32,000 euros.
Only a court has the right to order a detention, i.e., short-term imprisonment. A body conducting extrajudicial proceedings does not have this right; however, it has the right to choose whether to impose a fine or address a court to order detention. The minimum period of detention is one day and the maximum 30 days.
Disqualification (taking away the driving licence) is either the main or the additional punishment for traffic offences, and its purpose is to forbid the driver to drive his/her vehicle. Both the court and the body conducting extrajudicial proceedings have the right to impose this punishment.
When a person commits an act that contains the necessary elements of both a misdemeanour and a criminal offence, the person is punished only for a criminal offence. But if no sentence is passed for a criminal offence, the person may be punished for a misdemeanour. Differently from the case of a criminal offence, aiding or instigating a misdemeanour is not punishable. Otherwise, a person who induced a driver to drive faster or pass a red light could be convicted. In case of a misdemeanour, only the commitment of a misdemeanour is punishable.
The Penal Code provides the basis for imposing punishment for all offences. All criminal offences are provided in the Penal Code, but misdemeanours may also be provided in other Acts (for instance the Traffic Act, the Customs Act). The necessary elements of a misdemeanour are divided so that all Acts that are punished according to the legislation regulating a specific area (the Traffic Act) are provided at the end of this Act (at the end of the Traffic Act). It is more reasonable not to assemble all special legislation in one Act to avoid continuously amending and supplementing the basic Act. Regardless of the “inferior” Act from which the necessary elements of a misdemeanour originate, the Penal Code is still the basis for imposing punishments for all misdemeanours. “Inferior” Acts are in principle special parts of the Penal Code. Judicial and extrajudicial proceedings of misdemeanours are regulated by the Code of Misdemeanour Procedure.
Where to report misdemeanours
The Code of Misdemeanour Procedure provides a list of the bodies conducting extrajudicial proceedings; they are as follows: Police and Border Guard Board, the Central Criminal Police, the Personal Protection Service, the Internal Security Service, rural municipality governments, city governments, the Maritime Administration, the Estonian Tax and Customs Board, the Estonian Rescue Board, the Environmental Inspectorate, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Justice.
The officials of these bodies have the right to impose a fine on people for a misdemeanour, and thus all complaints on misdemeanours that have been committed or are being committed should be filed with them. But it is not equally efficient to file a complaint with all of them. For instance, a disturbance of public order (teenagers making a racket in front of your house all night) should be reported to the police, not a county or city government, although the law provides that both institutions are responsible for maintaining public order. As for unreported wages or the illegal sale of cigarettes, such offences should be reported to the Estonian Tax and Customs Board (24h, free, telephone: 800 4444, firstname.lastname@example.org).
When to contact the police
In the event of offences connected with the maintenance of public order, contact the police The law provides that the police serve as the body that conducts many extrajudicial proceedings. The same responsibility may lie with a county or city government, the Rescue Board, the Environmental Inspectorate, the Ministry of Justice. Thus, in general, the police are the first authority you should inform on misdemeanours (for instance, noisy neighbours). Traffic-related misdemeanours (incorrect parking, traffic hooliganism) should be reported to the police - information about high-risk traffic situations receives client information phone 612 3000 (on Monday to Sunday 8:00-19:00). The emergency call number is 112.
However, you should first consider whether it is really necessary to call the police or perhaps you can solve the problem on your own – your neighbours may understand your situation and stop disturbing you. You could also consider informing the head of the apartment association instead of calling the police each time. However, neither you nor the apartment association has the power to impose a punishment for disturbance.
The emergency number 112 you should call also in case of a fire, but also when there are casualties in a traffic accident (need for an ambulance). You can also call the emergency number to learn what you should do first and which authority you should contact.
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